Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Planning a Visual Novel

How do I PLAN my 
Visual Novels?

Since it's utterly pointless to create a story I don't have the resources, or skill, to turn into a Completed visual novel, I begin my planning by looking through my Assets and Asset Sources, to see what I can use. By the way, I am constantly adding new graphics and links to my asset collections.

For the main menu, and for individual scenes I prefer to use one album, or collection by one band, or artist per game. This makes the music consistent in style.

For backgrounds and characters, I happen to prefer using photo images. Occasionally I'll draw my characters from scratch, but my backgrounds are almost always heavily filtered images, or filtered photo-manipulations.  

Photo Sources

Anime style Character & Background sources:

3D Modeling program:

Sound Effects
For locations as well as for things that happen.

Then I consider my...
Artistic limitations:
  • What can I draw?
  • What can't I draw?
    • Can I make what I need with SketchUp?
    • Can I Photoshop what I need from bits and pieces of what I do have? 
    • Can I art-filter Photos into what I need? 
      • Do I have the right plug-ins to make a photo look like Art?
      • Do I have the right photos?

Then I consider my...
Coding limitations:
What I know how to code, or can get templates, sample codes, and/or tutorials to code.

The LemmaSoft forum holds a comprehensive library of tutorials, samples, and template games. Seriously.

Next to consider are my...
Copyright Limitations:
  • Paid license for commercial use?
  • Creative Commons, free to use with Credit, but not commercially?
  • Public Domain? 
  • Stolen from the Internet? (With the possibility of a copyright infringement lawsuit?)

Once I know what I have, I can then figure out what type of game I can create vs. what I can't create, and explore possible work-arounds for what I want to create. 

What I Want vs. What I Have

As you can probably guess, I prefer making adult games. However, I rarely have enough graphics to fully illustrate an erotic scene, so I Fake It. I select one one static image and write extremely detailed text to fulfill the erotic portions of the game. Oddly enough, this technique has proved to be rather successful, (read: Popular among my players).

For those who have actions scenes in their games, but just can't get the graphics to illustrate them, this technique could be a viable option -- IF you have a damned good writer on your team.

To see full-sized image: Right-Click > View Image

Next comes...

Game Planning

I use FreePlane, a free mind mapping program, to plot out the main paths/options in the game. FreePlane is disgustingly easy to use. Most of it is simply point > click > type. It even has a built-in Spell-Check, though you have to Turn It On, plus internal hyper links (green arrows) to jump from any bubble to any other bubble.

With this program, I can map out the game into multiple stages (or chapters,) with all their branching options, plus hyper links that jump to specific results.

By closing all the options, then clicking open only those I wish to select, I can actually do a dry-run of the entire game. This is particularly useful for uncovering anything left open-ended before I even begin coding.

To see full-sized image: Right-Click > View Image 

As for the story writing aspect goes, I tend to write out most of the dialogue and narrative right into FreePlane, then just copy-paste the text straight into the game's code.

How to Plot the Story

I plot out my stories in FreePlane, but then I've crafting stories for a really long time so most of the work happens inside my head. For those who need a little assistance getting their ideas organized, there's this technique;

Visual Novel Graphics

To make the graphics FIT exactly the way they're supposed in the game without any extra adjustments, I open Photoshop and create a PSD file set to the exact dimensions of the game. On separate layers in this one file, I create all the graphics; buttons, textboxes, menus, and backgrounds.

Once they're created, it's simply a matter of saving the individual layers as PNGs and JPGs into the Game file.

 1024x768 game
For full sized image: Right-click > View Image

I create the characters in their own PSD files because they tend to have hundreds of layers all by themselves. I also make them complete; head to toe at 1100px tall for a game 768px in height, then cut the image from the top - down to fit the 768 screen.

Ivan's PSD file was over 800MB in size.
He had 4 costume changes, 6 poses, and 14 different expressions. 

Once I have all (or most of) the graphics made, I open Ren'Py, my visual novel engine of choice, and begin coding the game together.

When I  run into problems --and I do regularly-- I visit the LemmaSoft forum for Tech and Coding support. It is the ONLY place to get quick, if not immediate help for Ren'Py coding complications. Mainly because the creator of Ren'Py; PyTom, hangs out there.

The Cookbook section of the forum has a whole treasure-trove of coding tricks for just about everything from making an Image Gallery, and a Music Room, to setting up Turn-Based Battles. Warning: This section has been known to induce Feature Creep in games!

What about Beginners?

If you're a beginner working on your very first visual novel, I cannot recommend this tutorial high enough:

This tutorial will teach you everything from the ground floor of opening the RenPy engine, all the way up to the intermediate level of setting up menu choices and jumps, posting flags to change events, and applying a point system to select an ending within a working multi-ending game that you code from scratch.

When I first ran into this tutorial, I had already completed two games. Even so, I could not believe how many Basic things I'd never learned. This one tutorial made so many things that seemed complicated very easy to learn -- and Use.



  1. Hi, I'm a newbie VN creator. Your blog has been such a great help! I have a question with the character design. When you say, "I also make them complete; head to toe at 1100px tall for a game 768px in height, then cut the image from the top - down to fit the 768 screen." What do you mean by "cut the image from the top-down, do you resize or .... - unlikely - crop?

    1. Hello Pyong,
      -- I actually make the character image in Photoshop a whole lot larger.(This is because my characters tend to have hundreds of layers and it's far easier to get details right if you're working with a bigger image.) I then resize it Down to 96 dpi at 1100 px tall. I then Crop from the bottom upwards (I cut off the feet to the thighs,) so that the character's heart is dead center of the background image.

      The reason I always want the character's heart at the center --no matter how big or small the character image-- is because the Horizon Line is supposed to be at the center.

      Hmm... I may have to do a small tutorial on placing images in the picture to show why.

      I hope that helped
      -- Morgan